In recognition of Garnet Exelby, the last Maple Leaf to wear this number in a game, here's seven thoughts on the club's sweep of Alberta:
1. Looking for room in a winning lineup: It's not entirely clear when Mark Fraser will return, but it won't be to a situation in which he's guaranteed a roster spot.
As of now, it would be hard to take out any of the six Leaf blueliners who have formed a solid unit ever since Fraser was injured on opening night. Yes, yes, we get the nightly and daily lectures from broadcast and print media about the number of shots the team is giving up. WE GET IT. But the fact is that's still as much about the forwards as the defence, and the ability of the forwards to generate enough offence and to capitalize on the chances is trumping the chances given up.
So back to the defence. Who would come out for Fraser? Paul Ranger? Maybe, except he played more than anyone against the Oilers on Tuesday and scored an important shortie into an open net on Wednesday.
Jake Gardiner? He just seems to be rounding into form, finding that balance between offence and defence, understanding game situations better than every before. Carl Gunnarson? Leads the team in blocked shots. Morgan Rielly? Perhaps, but only because he's a 19-year-old rookie, not because of insufficient performance.
Fraser's clearly in tough to get back into a lineup. That said, these things have a way of working themselves out in the NHL. Injuries to defencemen are commonplace, and Fraser's toughness is certainly an element the Leafs could use.
2. Why not do it before the game? Just set up a boxing ring: The "fight" between enforcers Frazer McLaren and Brian McGrattan at the 1:22 mark of the first period was about as staged and stupid as one can imagine.
Neither was upset. Nothing had happened in the game. They just wanted to legitimize their presence, not to mention their salaries (McLaren $700,000, McGrattan $750,000). Neither player would be in the NHL if not for their ability to goon it up, so it's important for both to make sure they create enough brawling opportunities to nobody can wonder exactly what their contribution.
After the fight, both indicated with hand signs that they were happy with the mutual effort. Just so pointless.
Even I, as a strident anti-fight supporter, can see the difference between that incident of ridiculousness and the bout later between Shane O'Brien and Carter Ashton after Ashton landed a bad hit on O'Brien's teammate, Derek Smith for which the Leaf forward was given a boarding penalty. Ashton had his nose bloodied, the crowd went wild.
O'Brien was at least protecting a teammate, although the fact his actions netted him an instigator and negated a Calgary power play. So what was really accomplished that aided the Flames ability to win the game?
At least that's debatable. But please don't compare it to the staged stuff earlier in the game.
3. The value of the nuclear deterrent: We know that Leaf head coach Randy Carlyle is committed to dressing Colton Orr and McLaren every night, at least during the regular season. The formula worked effectively last season, and Carlyle clearly intends to use it again this year to give his team the physical presence he believes is necessary.
He's won a Stanley Cup with that mentality, and until it really backfires, it's difficult to argue with him. That said, sometimes it clearly impacts the lineup the other team chooses to dresses, which was the case on Wednesday when the Flames, instead of dressing centre Mikael Backlund, went for extra muscle by dressing McGrattan and Tim Jackman.
I'm guessing that Backlund would have contributed a lot more to the Flames attempted comeback than either of the two scrappers.
Interestingly, while former Leaf GM Brian Burke, now president of the Flames, wasn't at the game, and kept a very low profile before the game, he couldn't stay quiet entirely. Burke penned a opinion piece that is running in USA Today on Thursday condoning the continuing presence of fisticuffs in the sport.
"It's not a perfect system. Not every fight is a good fight. Not every fighter is a perfect policeman," writes Burke. "There are a small number of rats in the game who live outside the code. But our game is improved tremendously by players' ability to police the game. It makes it more exciting and honorable. It allows skill players to focus on the skilled aspects of the game because someone else can watch their back. And it fundamentally makes our game safer."
There. Equal time. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.
4. Really too bad there was no room at the blue-and-white inn: Ex-Leaf Joe Colborne didn't score or put any points on the board on Wednesday, but he sure was involved and showed more offence as a Flame than he did in any game he dressed for as a Leaf, not surprising since Calgary is giving him a chance in that role.
Colborne played 23:54, more than he has for any other game in the NHL. He had two shots, one hit and won 53 per cent of his draws. Good for Bob Hartley to give him that kind of opportunity against his former team. The challenge for Colborne will be to produce enough offence to justify that ice time in the future.
Otherwise, the Flames' offence has been surprisingly good this season, 10th in the league so far.
5. For better or worse, you're gonna notice this guy: David Clarkson picked up his first point as a Leaf on a pretty effort in the third period. Clarkson blocked T. J. Brodie's attempted pass in the neutral zone, executed a nice drag move on Chris Butler and fired a shot that was stopped, with Mason Raymond tapping in the rebound.
Later, however, Clarkson banged into Butler from behind, drawing a penalty that gave Calgary a later powerplay. It wasn't a vicious hit, but he's got to be smarter than that.
Clarkson's physical presence in the Leaf lineup has already left a mark on one opposing player. His hard, clean shoulder-to-shoulder hit on Pittsburgh's Rob Scuderi last Saturday knocked the solid stay-at-home blueliner out of the game early. The way the Pittsburgh defenceman fell or had his leg caught under him fractured his ankle, and he's out 6-8 weeks.
Scuderi had played 276 consecutive games before the injury.
6. Feet more valuable than eyes: It does boggle the mind that the Calgary Flames, after losing Mark Giordano and Lee Stempniak to foot injuries after blocking shots, have made plastic skate-caps for blocking shots mandatory for all players. Good decision.
But visors? Nope, no Flames directive on that.
7. Those boys might be exhausted by March: Among the intriguing elements Saturday when the Leafs visit the Canucks will be how Carlyle chooses to defend against what may be the hottest line in the league, the Sedin twins with Ryan Kesler. That unit produced Vancouver's only goal in a 2-1 loss to Detroit on Wednesday.
The extra challenge is the way in which John Tortorella is using the trio these days. Daniel Sedin played 24:08 against Detroit, Kesler played 25:20 while Henrik Sedin played a monster 26:42. You can argue whether this is sustainable over an 82-game season, but in the short term, it's a matchup problem for any other team.
Detroit could at least counter with the defensively excellent Pavel Datysuk. We know Dion Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarson will be out as much as possible against the No. 1 Vancouver line, but it will be interesting to see which forward unit gets the assignment.
Does Carlyle have enough belief in Nazem Kadri to let Kadri, Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk go power against power? We shall see. But even if that's the case, they'll need help.